Winter tyres may be something UK drivers tend to think of as more the domain of traditionally colder and snowier countries but with the winter cost to UK firms reportedly being in the millions - as employees can’t make it into work or as deliveries become more tricky, sometimes impossible - it’s a safety and economical factor firms and individuals should be considering come autumn.
It’s safe to say there’s a lack of awareness in the UK when it comes to winter tyres, also known as cold weather tyres, however, there are many benefits to them as drivers are six times more likely to have an accident during the winter months, and nearly half of all accident claims are made over the same period, so it’s certainly not a time for snow blindness.
Although with no legislation on the subject or even any information in the Highway Code, it’s easy to see why some drivers don’t feel the need for any change when Jack Frost comes to visit.
And it’s not just snow that proves a risk; even cold, damp roads can dramatically affect the performance of tyres, leading to an increased accident risk.
What are winter tyres?
Unlike standard tyres, winter tyres do not harden at lower temperatures which means they give you a much better grip on the road and the ability to stop in a shorter distance.
Mike Wise, managing director fleet at fleettyres24.co.uk, thinks the advantages to fleet managers of having winter tyres fitted to their vehicles are substantial and proven.
“First and foremost, winter tyres are the safest option for drivers during the colder months of the year but there is more to be said for them than that. They significantly reduce the risk of accident damage, not just in high-speed incidents, but also in the far more common scenario of a driver scraping or denting a vehicle (or two) as a result of losing traction while manoeuvring in a car park, for instance.
“The reason why so few fleets run without winter tyres during the cold months can only be down to the myths surrounding their use or a simple lack of awareness. Winter tyres are not just for snow and ice but offer advantages in any weather conditions below 7ºC.”
Winter tyres can be identified by the mark M+S (M&S, M.S.) and sometimes a snowflake on the tyre wall, they are also feature a deeper and rougher tread than summer tyres for extra traction.
The rubber compound of a winter tyre is very different to that of a standard or summer tyre as it is designed specifically to work in temperatures below 7ºC.
A vehicle fitted with winter tyres will come to standstill on a snow-covered road (from a speed of 30mph) after 35 metres but with normal tyres the braking distance required is a further eight metres.
When do I fit them?
It is recommended that you make the switch between October and April, when average temperatures are around 7ºC and winter weather can hit. You can use winter tyres in summer if storage is an issue as they are as quiet and comfortable as summer tyres and, thanks to sophisticated compound technology, do not wear any more quickly.
However, it is worth bearing in mind the difference in stopping distance as although better in the wintry and cold conditions, winter tyres don’t stop as quickly in the warm and dry weather so it is recommended that you switch back to conventional, summer tyres between April and October. You may wish to consider keeping winter tyres for longer if you live in an area that is prone to more prolonged severe weather.
Another benefit to winter tyres is that unlike winter or snow chains or studded snow tyres, they don’t damage the road.
Take care when driving
While winter tyres provide more grip and control in cold, wet or snowy conditions thanks to the different rubber compound used, always be mindful of the prevailing conditions. Sensible and safe driving should mean that the need for emergency stops or making sharp turns reduces. Also remember to regularly check the tread depth and pressure, and do not reduce pressure to increase grip as this can lead to more blowouts. Performance in snow, icy roads or sub-zero conditions will reduce significantly if the tread depth falls below 3mm so keep an eye on part-worn winter tyres. Tyre pressure should be checked when the tyres are still cold – which means they should have been driven no more than a mile.
Remember that cold weather tyres are not snow tyres or snow chains and will not guarantee grip in the worst that the UK winter can throw at us. When slush, ice and snow are on the roads, you should remain as cautious as ever.
Finally, in the very worst winter weather, it is much safer to postpone your car trip until the worst is out of the way. If a journey is unavoidable make sure you take warm clothing, food and drink.
Typical costs for a full set of winter tyres are between £400 to £500, however many franchised dealerships and manufacturers are now operating comprehensive winter tyre packages which not only include the tyres and fitting but also tyre storage. These comprehensive packages can go up to around £1,000. Most tyre centres will also stock and fit winter tyres.
Although winter tyres are an expensive investment remember that your summer tyres will last longer as they aren't used for several months of the year.